Announcement - Valve
Save 75% on Portal 2 during this week's Midweek Madness*!

Portal 2 draws from the award-winning formula of innovative gameplay, story, and music that earned the original Portal over 70 industry accolades and created a cult following.

The single-player portion of Portal 2 introduces a cast of dynamic new characters, a host of fresh puzzle elements, and a much larger set of devious test chambers. Players will explore never-before-seen areas of the Aperture Science Labs and be reunited with GLaDOS, the occasionally murderous computer companion who guided them through the original game.

The game’s two-player cooperative mode features its own entirely separate campaign with a unique story, test chambers, and two new player characters. This new mode forces players to reconsider everything they thought they knew about portals. Success will require them to not just act cooperatively, but to think cooperatively.

*Offer ends Friday at 10AM Pacific Time
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - (Graham Smith)

So saxxy it hurts.

Every year Valve hold the Saxxy Awards to encourage and round-up the very best Source Filmmaker creations, and every year the submissions are almost solely set inside the Team Fortress 2 universe. That’s perhaps because they’re Valve’s most expressive characters and because TF2′s manic world is most easily bent towards drama and comedy, but for the just-announced 4th annual Saxxy Awards, Valve are encouraging submissions from other games. Mainly: Portal 2.

… [visit site to read more]

PC Gamer
Aperture Tag review

Aperture Tag is a mod for Portal 2 that removes the portal gun and replaces it with one that fires gel: repulsion gel, which makes you bounce higher, and propulsion gel, which makes you move faster. Jumping and running, in other words, replaces portals as the main tools to solve puzzles with. Unfortunately, there's no replacement for Portal 2's other elements, like enjoyable voice acting, excellent writing, and a well-balanced level of challenge. And, unlike most mods, Aperture Tag adds a price tag, meaning the first puzzle to solve is: should you pay for this?

There are just over two-dozen test chambers in Aperture Tag, though a couple are recycled from the original game, spiced up by having no portal gun to solve them with. The early game is slow to evolve, giving you only the repulsion gel to play with for a long while. I understand the modders wanting to ease me into the mechanics of the gels, but you can't play the mod without owning Portal 2, and if you own Portal 2, chances are you've played it and already know how everything works. A shorter refresher course would have been welcome.

Once both gels are unlocked, the game ramps up the complexity, though unevenly. I found a couple of early chambers surprisingly vexing while some endgame puzzles were so easily solved I felt like I'd missed something. Even when puzzles are good, they can be spoiled by poor design choices: in one chamber, I'd solved the room in my head but it still took a while to beat solely due to the way a faith plate-launched weighted cube landed, which seemed unfair. I'm happy to have my brain and reflexes tested, but not thrilled to have to repeat a sequence because a cube took a few bad bounces. A small handful of test chambers, however, are genuinely satisfying to solve, utilizing gels, blocks, buttons, mirror cubes, force fields, and yes, even portals (they do show up from time to time, but can't be placed by the player).

No portal gun, but still a few portals.

It ain't the paint
Repetition is an issue. One of the first tricks we learned playing with gels in Portal 2 was that laying down a line of speed gel and ending it with some bounce gel gives you an awesome, rocketing leap. Aperture Tag requires this on so many of its levels that it feels like a pointless added bit of work, as if the modders just ran out of gel-related challenges and kept reusing this initially enjoyable gimmick. Also, while it takes just a mouse-click to reposition a portal in the vanilla game, slathering walls and floors in paint takes time and isn't particularly fun to do repeatedly in the same chamber. This becomes a problem since the mod's later chambers almost exclusively feature toxic floors, meaning that missing a jump is punished by death, often undoing all your careful (or sloppy) painting and discouraging haphazard experimentation. That said, the auto-save system works pretty well, saving your game at multiple steps throughout some of the longer and more elaborate puzzles.

Do you love poison floors? I hope so.

One nice addition is the "Fizzler," an energy field that switches one or both barrels of your paint gun on and off, and figuring out how to properly paint areas when your gun has been partially or completely disabled adds another level to the puzzle-solving. The mod could have used a few more new ideas like this. I was hopeful after spotting what looked like a new brand of sentry turret early on, but it didn't act any differently, and by the end of the game the turrets revert back to their original appearance not to mention that with unlimited bouncy gel at your disposal, turrets are easily beaten. I didn't notice much in the way of custom art assets, either, and there's no real use of cinematic physics (such as Wheatley mashing enormous test-chambers together in Portal 2) meaning the mod is mostly a static series of connected test chambers, with one exception.

The centerpiece of the mod is a time-based speedrun that requires you to zoom down a series of twisting corridors and launch yourself off ramps at breakneck speed, projecting gel ahead of you to keep up your momentum and bounce at just the right times. While exciting and satisfying to beat, this sequence is hurt by the lack of preparation for it, featuring only one brief sequence of gel-racing earlier. Also, when you're rocketing along at top speed, the gel you're splattering ahead of yourself actually lags a bit behind, making it tough to tell if you're painting the landscape ahead properly. Even the modders seem to recognize this sequence is overly difficult: they've provided a big red button that lets you skip it entirely.

Not the most subtle of traps.

Several attempts at a story, misdirection, surprises, and humor are made, but all fall flat. The personality core leading you through the test chambers isn't exactly irritating, but his jokes certainly aren't funny, and apart from "generally upbeat" it's a struggle to even pin down what his personality is. I wasn't expecting anything approaching Valve's level of writing, story, or performance, but if a mod is going to include lots of talking, its character should have something more interesting to say.

This mod is for sale on Steam. I'm all for modders getting paid for their work, and clearly a lot went into this mod, but I'd say their price is a tad optimistic for what you get. In the Steam Workshop, there are a few hundred thousand custom test chambers to explore for free.

Expect to pay: $7/ 5
Release: Out now
Developer/Publisher: Aperture Tag Team
PC Gamer
Aperture tag

Mods, eh? The fun, free way to extend and/or fix your games. But what's this? Aperture Tag: The Paint Gun Testing Initiative looks like a mod, behaves like a mod, and even has the word "MOD" in the corner of its Steam icon. The difference: it's not priced like a mod. This premium package offers a new campaign for Portal 2 one that does away with portals entirely, in favour of puzzles centred around the base game's gels.

A recent trailer provides a brief glimpse at this janitorial nightmare:

"Aperture Tag: The Paint Gun Initiative is a mod for Portal 2, inspired by TAG! The Power of Paint," explains the mod's store page. "The familiar Portal 2 gels are now contained within the Aperture Science Paint Gun Device and it's your job to test it out!" The mod offers 27 levels, original voice acting, and an in-game editor and Steam Workshop support. Mod or not, it's a nicely sized chunk of game.

And yes, it costs 5/$7 although there's also a 30% discount for the first week. People will inevitably have feelings about whether mods should charge for content, but, given the shift towards easy-to-use game creation platforms, it does make sense. The modding scene is in a different place now, partly because it's so easy for game creators to pursue their own projects in Unity or GameMaker. If paid-for mods do catch on, it could not only tempt more people back into creating cool new things for existing games, but might also encourage those attempting more ambitious mod projects to actually finish them.

On the other hand, free stuff is great, and the possibility of a healthy amount of free, additional content is sometimes part of a PC game's initial appeal. Ultimately, it comes down to the individual game creators to say whether they're okay with people making money from their game. For Valve, in this instance, the answer is yes but likely that's decided on a case-by-case basis. Aperture Tag's premium release does feel somewhat significant, but it may not have that great an impact on modding as a whole.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - (Nathan Grayson)

A Portal game without portals? “Why, that’s like removing puppies from the Puppy Bowl,” you might say. “What is even the point?” The point, fellow small dog enthusiast, is paint. Physics-affecting paints (think bouncy gel, etc) were part of Portal 2, but they weren’t the main focus. Paid standalone mod/game Aperture Tag: The Paint Gun Testing Initiative puts them front and center, and it looks like sticky, slippery, hundreds-of-feet-in-the-air-hurtling fun. It’s out now, and a trailer’s below.

… [visit site to read more]

PC Gamer
The new kings of comedy

Few games are designed to make you laugh. And among those that do, laughter is often a happy accident, the inadvertent by-product of a combination of systems that provoke moments of unintentional comedy.

People laugh at videogames constantly, says former Irrational Games alumnus Jordan Thomas, who recently worked as creative consultant on South Park: The Stick of Truth. But largely it s because they re laughing at the clumsy and often absurd intersection between the designer s intent and their own. Thomas insists there s nothing necessarily wrong with that, but the distinction is clear: we re laughing at games, not with them.

For comedy writer and director Graham Linehan, it s pretty low on his list of priorities when playing a game. For me it s like comedy in porn, he says. It s kind of beside the point. Valve writer Erik Wolpaw, who co-scripted Portal and its sequel, admits that he once likened the idea of comedy in games to the guy who talks between dancers at a strip club. Nobody cares what that guy says and anybody who does is probably kinda maladjusted.

Linehan suggests that in most cases the problem is that the writing simply isn t good enough. The desire to ensure the audience is in on the joke is perhaps why GTA s satire has all the subtlety of a wrecking ball (by design, arguably), and why parody rarely works Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon s attempts to mock bad tutorials by forcing the player to sit through one has all the wit of Scary Movie. I love that argument trotted out about a bad game: oh, it s a satire, Linehan laughs. When Alan Wake came out and the dialogue was just grim, ah, but he s supposed to be a bad writer. No. I really don t think they re good enough to do an impersonation of a bad writer.

And yet it s easy to sympathise with writers attempting interactive comedy. There are intractable problems with a medium in which authors cede control to players: if the secret of comedy is in the timing, how you do ensure the player delivers the punchline at the right time? Nor does the natural repetition of core game mechanics lend itself to humour. The point of surprise is the punchline in a joke, says Luis Hernandez, one half of indie duo Necrophone Games, developers of Jazzpunk. And by virtue of having a core mechanic, you re expecting a certain outcome. I think that s less conducive to surprising people and as a result comedy.

Perhaps that helps to explain why there are so few blockbuster comedy games around. Hernandez cites the desire for efficiency among large developers working on big-budget productions as an unavoidable issue. Comedy by its very nature is an inefficient thing. It s not a survival skill, it s sort of a peacock feather. The loss of individualism in a large team, he says, means that it s harder to reach consensus, so you end up with a designed-by-committee feel.

Necrophone s Jess Brouse agrees that larger developers aren t best positioned to explore comedy, simply because they re less free to experiment during production. A lot of triple-A developers don t just play around and see what happens or rarely get to do that. Whereas we do it all the time, we do a lot of experiments and stuff that we don t end up using. I mean, we made another 40 to 50 percent content for Jazzpunk that ended up on the cutting room floor. But we got it to the level of prototype rather than just designing it on paper. The secret of Jazzpunk s success, he suggests, is down to the two-man team s ability to test and play their ideas, without having to run them past a superior.

Which isn t to say it can t be done, as the two Portal games have proven though as a studio Valve can hardly be said to be typical of large development teams. Erik Wolpaw suggests that financial concerns are part of the reason why so few big publishers will take risks on comedy. I think in film and TV, comedies are generally cheaper to produce than big dramatic spectacle movies. In triple-A games, where you have to make everything from scratch, they cost about the same, so you don t mitigate the risk with a cheaper budget. Plus, failed comedy tends to fail a lot harder than failed drama. Bad comedy is pretty much unbearable to sit through, whereas bad drama can at least crater into unintentional comedy.

Ignoring the financial barrier, he s unsure why people don t attempt to write more comedy games. It s probably because they think it s hard. That s why I don t write more drama or horror or romance or whatever I m pretty sure I m not good at it and it seems like it d be a ton of work to become good at it. So, fear and laziness mostly.

And yet for all the issues inherent in creating good videogame comedy, it does feel that we re seeing the first real resurgence of humour in the medium, arguably since the classic point-and-click era, where LucasArts games in particular offered a rich seam of wit. The two Portal games, Hernandez and Brouse s Jazzpunk and South Park: The Stick of Truth have all made players laugh, and while the likes of Goat Simulator and Octodad stretched their one joke a little too far, for all their flaws they re indicative of a culture that s daring to explore an untapped area of the interactive medium. The recent rise to prominence of indie games is undoubtedly an influence, as smaller developers such as Necrophone have easy access to tools like Unity and are empowered to build games without needing to break the bank the democratisation of technology, as Hernandez calls it.

In that environment, South Park: The Stick of Truth is something of an anomaly while its budget might not compare with a GTA or a BioShock, it s a reasonably high-cost comedy from a large publisher. Its risk as a business venture is, of course, mitigated by the fact that it s based on an established licence, but that in itself has proven to be as often a hindrance as a help in the past. Yet with the involvement of Trey Parker and Matt Stone at every stage in the process, it plays out like an extended episode of the show. In that sense, it could be argued that it s funny despite being a game, and yet, as Jordan Thomas explains, part of the reason it works so well is that the player becomes a participant in the joke; they re not merely a passive observer of the game s comedy.

The Stick of Truth was an excellent crash course in the problems of timing as exposed to the player, he says. A lot of the best jokes in South Park were hard-won because they were our attempt to anticipate what the player might do and respond only if they chose to take that action, and that s the stuff I m the proudest of because that s the stuff that s hardest to do well. You can make someone laugh in a cutscene trivially that has been around for thousands of years. But to get them to be in on the joke, and not just that, but be the person who has the best line, so to speak, there s very little precedent for it. There was experimentation in adventure games, and then a long drought, and finally we re coming back here and there.

The direct involvement of the player in the comedy is an idea that still feels relatively untapped, but it s one that Necrophone Games terrific Jazzpunk manages to exploit. Many of its jokes rely on the element of surprise, often subverting the player s expectations, or simply offering an unexpected result to a simple interaction. Attempting to speak to a man on a bridge, for example, causes him to jump off, emitting a Wilhelm scream as he falls. Reaching out to manipulate the hands on a clock reveals your arm to be a wooden prop. What makes it so consistently funny is that you re never sure what the results of your interactions will be, and that only encourages you to explore and discover the surprises for yourself.

It was very important to have that possibility space, Luis Hernandez says. The open world aspect ties into that the fact that players are missing things and a joke doesn t really work if you see it coming. A lot of games are structured around a core mechanic, and even in comedy I feel that s the wrong approach.

The kind of comedy we re doing is more like punchlines, adds Jess Brouse, likening the game s humour to a jack-in-the-box. It s that kind of sharp I got ya surprise that pops out at the end.

Every bit as surprising is the revelation that Jazzpunk didn t begin life as a comedy, and only developed into one as Hernandez and Brouse began to add Easter eggs into their spy fiction while they were building it to amuse themselves. Slowly, they began to consider how comedy could be used as a central game mechanic, and Hernandez began studying other games in order to better understand how to make their own work better. Looking at how other games at the time were being built, like shooters and puzzle games, I realised that a lot of games are structured around some kind of resistive element, he explains. Most games are built with a start and end state, and they throw in a bunch of stuff along the way so you can t just walk to the end of the game. In most games that s guys that shoot at you or something that shoots at you. And in other games it will be puzzles that impede you, and you have to walk around and find coloured blocks or keys and fit them into doors.

Hernandez s boredom and general dissatisfaction with these two base types of resistance helped to shape Jazzpunk s development. I realised that some of this comedy stuff we were gradually adding to the game could actually function as a kind of resistive element. Even if it was something passive that players could walk past, you d still have curious players that would seek out this material. So while our game has some simple puzzle elements, they re mostly very straightforward. And rather than shooting or outright puzzle solving, comedy became the resistive element.

If the secret of Jazzpunk s success is that element of surprise, its comedy is still very much scripted, and yet most players would probably admit that the biggest laughs they ve experienced in a game have emerged from entirely unplanned moments of comedy. In some cases like the aforementioned Octodad or even its spiritual precursor, Bennett Foddy s hilarious QWOP the games are purposely designed to result in moments of physical slapstick, but is giving players the tools to create their own comedy moments a valid approach to making funny games? Short answer yes, says Erik Wolpaw, before wryly adding long answer Chet and I are out of work if comedy writing gets replaced by tools programming. So while I admit it s entirely possible and truly effective, I m against it.

Indeed, often the moments that provoke the most laughter come from the most unexpected sources, sandbox games often proving a rich source of humour. Battlefield does make me laugh a lot, admits Graham Linehan. The things that can happen in Battlefield are obviously unscripted but maybe that s why it s funny. Maybe that feeds into emergent gameplay lending itself to comic timing like when you wander into a building and throw a few grenades and the building suddenly collapses onto you. It s unexpected. It fulfils a lot of the rules of comedy, you know, it s a mixture of the surprising and the inevitable.

The common link, it seems, between systemic comedy and scripted comedy is that they re both at their best when subverting expectations. Linehan agrees that a degree of spontaneity is as welcome as a dose of wit. Maybe what all these games have in common is that they re playing the player they re messing with your expectations more. In that respect, I always think there s been a link between horror and comedy. Like in Silent Hill, where you have that toilet door that s closed, and you knock at it three times and there s a pause and then knock knock knock from the other side. It s terrifying, but it s very funny. The best comedy is really where you re being played to some extent.

Could the likes of Portal, Jazzpunk and The Stick of Truth bring about a comedy revival, or are we a little way off from audiences actively seeking out comedy games? I like a bit of intelligence, I like a reference that seems neat and clever and takes me by surprise, says Linehan. I value wit over comedy , I guess. Valve are really good at it, and I always think something like Left 4 Dead is very witty in how it s constructed. But when I need a good laugh, will I watch The Producers or play a videogame?

Hernandez believes that more people might begin to develop a taste for comedy if more games attempt to make players laugh. I haven t played it yet, but The Stanley Parable, Goat Simulator, games like that if they come out and start building up a Blockbuster shelf of comedy that people can see every time they go to the Steam Store then it could happen.

I think people go into games to be amused, he continues. I don t think receiving comedy as a reward is really any better or worse than receiving points for stepping on people or killing-spree notifications for shooting people in the face. Essentially, people play games a lot of the time to get an endorphin release in their brain, so whether that s a joke or solving a puzzle don t think there s that much of a disparity between the two.

Brouse suggests that if interactive comedy is to take off, it will take time to manifest, while Hernandez believes that it s too soon to judge whether or not their game has influenced other developers to follow their lead. We won t know if they took it to heart yet, he says. I keep imagining a student in, say Japan, and that Jazzpunk is close to what they want to make. I mean, I ve met people who say that Jazzpunk is something close to what they re looking for in games. There s definitely a huge audience looking for things other than shooting and puzzles, and for them Jazzpunk scratched an itch that perhaps they didn t know they had.
Community Announcements - davidw
We have updated the public release of Portal 2. This update contains all the changes from the recent beta. We would like to thank the community for the testing and suggestions that have been provided.

  • Linux / SteamOS beta is now available
  • Steam controller support beta
  • Some translation updates
  • Fixed bugs with triple-monitor displays
  • Some other bug fixes
Shacknews - Robert Workman
The Electronic Entertainment Expo is conference that is known for high points that shake up the gaming world, along with low points that can't be shaken from memory. Not to say all the conferences are triumphant or memorable, but each stood out in their own way. Here are some of our favorite highlights over the years from the big event, and maybe we'll add on a few more after next week.
PC Gamer

Every now and then, I like to visit Portal 2's Steam Workshop page. Not to download anything, you understand, but to experience the panic attack of knowing that somewhere in that list of 353,637 maps, there's something really good that nobody has bothered to play. Like great painters not recognised until long after their death, their masterpieces are untouched and their genius is unrecognised. And then I get drunk.

This time, I was too distracted by Cosmogony: a new six-part map-pack that was released earlier this month. Created by 'Dreey', it features a custom story, new locations and clever level design.

I've only played it in small stretches, thanks to an annoyingly persistent Portal 2 crash-to-desktop issue on my machine. Even so, the bits I've seen have featured some enjoyable traversal, and the main game's characters and dialogue have been smoothly incorporated into the new story.

More notably, the community reception to the pack is overwhelmingly positive, suggesting some notable puzzle design beyond the small, disparate chunks I've seen. You can subscribe to the full Cosmogony collection via the Steam Workshop, and play the pack from Portal 2's 'Community Test Chamber' menu.

If you want more to do in Portal 2, we've rounded up some of the best community maps, both in singleplayer and co-op.
PC Gamer

Aperture Tag is a Portal 2 mod inspired by Tag: The Power of Paint, the 2009 DigiPen student project which influenced Portal 2's gel mechanics and puzzles. Instead of shooting portals, you shoot the game s orange and blue liquids, which make you run faster and jump higher, respectively. And now you'll be able to add your own mods to the mix.
Taking the portals out of Portal admittedly doesn t sound like the best pitch, but if you ve been keeping up with Mod of the Week, you know that it looks really fun. With the announcement that it s going to include a level editor and Steam Workshop integration, you ll also be able to make your own fun.
Currently, the level editor and it's parts are very rough and mostly a proof of concept, the mod s creator Motanum said. However, this does show that it's a feasible thing to do. Where the goods greatly displace the flaws, so even if it is not as simple to use as Portal 2's editor, it still would bring a lot of value to the game.
Aperture Tag was approved by Steam Greenlight in February, and Motanum hopes to release it later this summer. You can keep up with its development on its Steam page.

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